I didn’t totally understand “Sparrow’s Guide to Business” [Sparrow, March 2023], but I was entertained. Thanks for publishing this possibly brilliant piece of work.
Sparrow’s done it again! He’s taken something he knows little about and enlightened us all.
I was shocked by Sparrow’s rambling ode to slackers, which reiterates the usual stereotypes about Jewish people and money. Sparrow writes that he is allowed to do this because he is Jewish. Really?
Just before picking up the magazine, I had been listening to the news, which focused on a man who had been indicted for a hate crime. He had written a social-media post about wanting to kill all the Jews in the Michigan government, because he thought Jewish people controlled all the money.
Perpetuating religious stereotypes isn’t harmless. It’s time to stop.
Leslie Ebert is right. I write these essays to amuse myself and forget that in the larger world they may do damage to real people — including me. I’m sorry.
When I opened the March 2023 issue of The Sun and saw Poe Ballantine’s name in the Contents, I nearly cried. His byline has been absent from the magazine for far too long. I’m thrilled that he is still putting words on a page, and I enjoyed his introduction to “The Blue Devils of Blue River Avenue” as much as the short story.
In his introduction to “The Blue Devils of Blue River Avenue,” Poe Ballantine claims that the Sun team is an “editing-happy bunch,” which is why I was so confused by the story’s use of the word kumquat, when clearly the fruit the narrator is referring to is a loquat. It kept me up all night.
I still remember reading Stephanie Hart’s Readers Write on “Changing Your Mind” in your December 2022 issue. I was moved by how she wrote about her relationship with her stepmother with sensitivity and poignancy. Then today, while reading the March 2023 issue online, I saw Robert Roth’s letter to the editor about Stephanie’s recent death. I clicked the link in Robert’s letter and found twelve more Readers Write pieces by Stephanie, dating back to 2006. I read them all, and afterward I thought of what Robert had written about how Stephanie had died with her partner beside her, “holding her hand, as her . . . breath stopped.” I’m grateful to get a glimpse of Stephanie’s life through her Readers Write stories and her friend’s letter.
No one loves the crime, traffic, or high cost of living, but many of us, myself included, do love Oakland, California. Elie Piha captures this feeling in his short story “A Sandwich Is a Concept” [February 2023], when he writes, “Oakland did have love, it had style, and at different hours of the day Oakland would let you in.” Living in Oakland can make you feel part of something global and deeply meaningful, especially on a sunny afternoon by Lake Merritt, when the diversity of the city’s residents is on display and it seems like everyone is having a picnic.
Anna Gazmarian’s essay “Sins of the Mother” [February 2023] beautifully portrays the doubts many women experience when they have a child. I remember not wanting my husband to drive our firstborn anywhere, because I feared I would lose my whole family if they were in an accident. And, like Gazmarian, I was confused about faith and embarrassed by my uncertainty. I now realize that learning confidence is a major part of motherhood.
The photographs and stories of unhoused people in Joseph Johnston’s photo essay “On the Streets of San Francisco” [February 2023] touched me. As a little girl in Los Angeles, I was threatened by a man brandishing a knife on a public street. When I was older, I was assaulted by a woman who appeared to be living on the streets of Portland, Oregon. She yelled at me and pulled my hair. I was with my elderly mother-in-law, and I felt scared for her safety, too.
Later in life I volunteered at a seasonal warming shelter for unhoused people, but I always signed up for the night shifts, when most of the guests would be asleep, so I wouldn’t be called on to interact with them much. I have always felt ashamed of this fear of people who lack shelter. I know perfectly well that not all unhoused people are mentally ill or addicted to drugs and that very few are violent. I’ll never know how much of my irrational fear stems from my first encounters with people on the streets, but I know one thing: I need to get over it. Johnston’s photos are helping me do that.
I live in the same neighborhood as Joseph Johnston. San Francisco’s rent-control and just-cause-for-eviction laws have allowed me to keep my apartment for twenty years. I immediately recognized four of the people in Johnston’s photo essay, but I didn’t know their names or any of their stories until I read the captions. Seeing Johnston’s photos and reading about his conversations left me feeling friendlier toward my unhoused neighbors. It’s going to take more than empathy to end homelessness in the United States, but we’ll be motivated to make it happen only when we start seeing all of our neighbors as human beings who have the right to decent housing.
Seth Shostak’s thoughts on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in “Out There” [interview by David Mahaffey, January 2023] are fascinating and made credible by his consistent adherence to fact rather than fantasy. If scientists ever find extraterrestrial intelligence, my heartfelt hope is that the aliens will have learned to cherish and protect their planet and perpetuate life there, with or without advanced technology.
I had a shocking realization while reading Ama Codjoe’s essay “An Aspect of Freedom” [January 2023]. The author writes, “Ambling along a Memphis street, you’re startled by the southern red oak’s transformation into a lynching tree.” I have looked at thousands of trees over decades in my work as a forester and arborist. I’ve never thought of any of them as a “lynching tree.”
I shared this observation with my friend who grew up in Florida during the Jim Crow era of state-sanctioned racism. He said it was not unusual for him and his friends to refer to a particular tree as a “lynching tree.” He is Black, and I am white. What a legacy to carry: his of recognizing an instrument of terror and mine of total ignorance of that.
I’m grateful to Codjoe for showing me this aspect of my white privilege.
Mark Leviton’s interview with Faith Friedlander on adoption [“All in the Family,” October 2022] stirred up many memories and emotions for me. More than forty years ago I had a son. He was born premature, and the nurses at the hospital insisted I sit with him and let him grasp my fingers and hear my voice. I was an unmarried wild child, and I could barely take care of myself. Worse still, I didn’t know who the father was. I named a guy I had been dating, and he never questioned it.
I gave my son up for adoption and went on with my life, but every May I think about him and hope he was given to a loving family. And every May I beat myself up for all my bad decisions. I have thought about attempting to find my son, but then I think: What would I say?
Congratulations on celebrating fifty years! I discovered The Sun ten years ago while staying at an Airbnb in Mendocino, California. The owner had a large collection of magazines on a shelf, and I fed my curiosity by flipping through old issues. The Sun has been a staple in my life ever since. Thank you for this heart-opening, grounding, monthly breath of fresh air.